Thursday, August 30, 2012

Hokkaido Backpacking Adventures! Part I

First of all, to anyone out there who may've been following this blog, I'd like to say that no, I didn't hop on the wrong train in Tokyo's labyrinthine metro system and somehow fall off the face of the earth these past couple months. I've actually just been working a lot-- we had a special Summer School program in July that involved a lot of four hour train commutes, un-air-conditioned schools and hot, crawly kindergartners. I did do some fun things as well: I visited Disney Sea with my friend Kenna, which was awesome and I'll try and do a full post about that soon. Sadly I had to say goodbye to Kenna who has now returned to our native land, Oregon. She will be missed!

See you soon, Kenna! :'(
The other thing I did was backpack my way around Hokkaido for two weeks. If I was ever curious what it might be like to be homeless in Japan, I now have a very intimate understanding. 

My partner in dirty, park-living homelessness was my friend Anna, a fellow English-teacher from Sendai, originally from Bristol, in the UK. We spent most of our copious amounts of free time making tea in odd locations, sneakily sketching unsuspecting citizens in cafes and parks, and I slowly but inevitably began unconsciously picking up British-isms. (I still can't believe I repeatedly referred to the flashlight as a "torch"; I feel I've let America down, somehow.)

Damn you, Anna, and your sneaky British ways!
 We flew from Narita to Sapporo, a nice hour and twenty minute flight via Jet Star, a cheap Australian airline. We spent one night in Sapporo before busing it out to Hokkaido's second largest city Asahikawa, and from there on to the little onsen (hot spring) town of Asahidake. Asahidake is one of the entrance points to Daisetsuzan National Park, a huge, mountainous expanse of land in the very center of Hokkaido.

 We spent the next 5 days on an insane backpacking course that took us across a grand total of 7 peaks, through countless alpine meadows full of wildflowers and rocky streams and was altogether a fantastic experience. I'll be blogging about that in more detail in my next post.

After the awesome but also kind of terrifying journey through the mountains, we returned to Sapporo bloodied, bruised and weary, yet triumphant. We spent the next three nights in a hotel, slowly recuperating via the lovely Nakajima Park, taking many showers, icing my swollen ankle and purple toe and indulging in delicious Sapporo cuisine. We had fresh crab legs which we roasted at our table over a hot pot and some famous mouth-watering Sapporo ramen.

Nakajima Koen in Sapporo

Mmm, raaaaaamen...
We also visited the Hokkaido University Botanical Gardens, which were pretty nice, but mostly worth visiting to check out the Ainu Museum. The Ainu are the indigenous people of Hokkaido. Their artwork and traditional clothes reminded me a lot of those of Native Americans from the NW and Alaska, and it was really fascinating to check out the museum's displays.

Next we spent several days camping on the beach near Otaru, in a tiny inaka town called Ranshima. The train station was possibly the most inaka thing I've ever seen. The day we arrived was a bit rainy and hardly anyone was around, but the next day it cleared up and the beach turned into the local party spot. On the one hand, it was fun because as foreigners everyone wanted to chat with us and give us free food-- and we did have dinner with some very nice guys from Toyota who cooked one of the best meals we ate on the whole trip. Unfortunately, all the attention also got a bit old, and the drunken, 3am partying did not make for a peaceful camping experience. (Seriously, I have Tokyo for drunken 3am partying, thanks very much.)

Day 1: rugged, serene beauty
Day 2: Wild, all-night beach party!
Finally we spent a couple quiet days in Niseko, outdoor sports center of Hokkaido. We were too tired and broke by that point to really get into any extreme sports, so mostly we hung out in the local coffee shop. We did trek out of town a ways to visit the Niseko Ostritch Farm, where I gawked in horrified wonder at the herd of hungry, Velociraptor-clawed giant death-birds.

Just cause it's chillin' with a bunch of cows doesn't mean it couldn't run you down and gut you with a flying kick, like Chuck Norris- if Chuck Norris had giant dinosaur talons.
The two weeks in Hokkaido were fun, memorable and well-spent. I came away with a few scars, true, but that's the thing about adventures, they wouldn't be as exciting without a few mountain storms or death-birds to spice things up. I'm so glad that I got to experience it and forever grateful to Anna for being an awesome camping buddy. And now to spend the rest of my summer hiding out in the air-conditioned cafes of the sprawling metropolis that is Tokyo...

Peace out, Hokkaido

Continue to Part II of Hokkaido Backpacking Adventures!


  1. Can't say I do very well hiking or camping, exploring looks like so much fun, and I always like pictures of food. Sapporo sounds like my kind of place.

  2. Yep, the famous foods of Sapporo are like a list of my favorite things: potatoes, cheese, crab, ramen... It was awesome!

  3. I will be moving there in about 30 days! Did you have to acquire any permits before backpacking in Daisetsuzan National Park? Looks like the way I imagined and even more excited after reading your blog!